Book Review: The Changeling

To believe in only the practical, the rational, the realistic was a kind of glamour as well. But he couldn’t enjoy the illusion of order anymore. Monsters aren’t real until you meet one.

When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, he left his son a box of books and strange recurring dreams. Now Apollo is a father himself–and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s hold dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. At first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of post-partum depression. But before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act and vanishes. Thus Apollo’s quest to find a wish and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

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I never would’ve known this book existed if not for Maggie Stiefvater posting on social media about this book. When I saw there was a section of the book titled: “shit, damn, motherfucker” I knew this was a book I’d want to read.

I was gifted the book by my parents for Jolabokaflod (aka the Christmas book flood) on December 24th. If you weren’t aware, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve to read that day. My family started doing this last year and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

ANYWAY, onto The Changeling…

Victor LaValle’s novel opens much like a fairy tale, even going so far as saying, “This Fairy Tale begins in 1968…” as the opening line. That sets the tone for the rest of the novel as this winding adventure through magic and mystery.

I was lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of the book when Apollo works as an independent bookseller and falls in love with Emma. But, in a fairy tale, nothing stays happy for long. Slowly the creepiness often found in fairy tales starts seeping into the story, in the form of nightmares.

I find often with books that relate to fairy tales, the magic it sometimes front and centre. But LaValle keeps the magical elements on the fringes of our vision until we’re in too deep to escape. And I LOVE it! The mystery and anticipation created wonderful tension as we marched toward the finale.

I won’t say anything more, because I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should read this book.

The characters were likeable and unlikeable in the most wonderful ways. Everyone feels amazingly real and flawed in relatable ways. *Vague Spoilers* The cast is full of mothers who’ve had to fight for themselves and for their children and I’m here for it!

This was a book full of secrets. Each character holds a secret that needs to be revealed and realized, and the world itself holds deep secrets for the privileged few to know. I feel like even the book itself is a wonderful secret.

The real-life horrors are just as scary (if not scarier than) as the mythological horrors. But everything is woven into a wonderful tapestry of creepy fairy tale goodness. As the layers of the story and its characters are revealed, I felt like there was so much left to explore even when the book ended. It’s definitely worth a reread.

I highly recommend this novel, especially if you like books based on/inspired by fairy tales.